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Lecturers of the Cologne Summer School on Opinion Form!ng Processes in Digital Democracies in 2021

Lecturers of the University of Cologne, partner universities worldwide and external experts contributed to the academic program. The topics of our Cologne Summer School on Opinion Form!ng Processes in Digital Democracies 2021 ranged from psychology, politics, through media law to journalism and communication science. We were honoured to have worked with renowned lecturers of University of Cologne, as well as lecturers from USA, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Have a look at the workshops' abstracts to gain an impression of the academic program.


Melanie Vogel

Entepreneur, Innovations-Coach, Economics Philosopher, Author and Business Pioneer

Keynote: Freedom of Expression: Not only a Fundamental Right, but also a Civic Duty

We live in a world of multi-media, in which we are confronted daily - as no other generation ever has been - with a flood of information that we must be able to select and examine for truth and importance. Information has always been the engine of civilizations, because without information there is no knowledge and without knowledge there is no evolution.“Information is power and currency of the virtual world we inhabit”, Billy Idol once sang. But information as power and currency is not only limited to the virtual world because the merging of the two worlds challenges us in ways never before experienced. We must learn to distinguish not only fake news from truthful reporting, but also propaganda from conspiracy theories and journalistic errors - digital and analog.

For us to succeed, we must become empowered citizens who are able to recognize the value of information, to interpret it - and then to form our own opinions. Because having one's own opinion is the basis for democratic decision-making and opinion-forming.But how does information become opinion? Why is it important to have a personal opinion? Why does one’s opinion count and even more important: What value has an own opinion in a world where opinions outside the mainstream are framed, threatened by “shitstorms” and “Cancel Culture” has made its way into many democracies - mostly with the help of powerful companies like YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, which earn their money with information and data? The last few years - but especially the last few months - have revealed to us: Discourse, disagreement and constructive arguments have become a relic of the past. Is that freedom of expression? Is that appropriate for a democracy?This keynote will not only focus on the DNA of information but also on the concepts of “opinion” and “freedom” - from a historical outline to the present day. The economic philosopher Melanie Vogel will bring clarity to words whose meaning has long been lost in the cacophony of information overload.This keynote will not provide any final answers, but many ideas for further discussions.

Melanie Vogel

Entepreneur, Innovations-Coach, Economics Philosopher, Author and Business Pioneer

Workshop: Democracy in a Digital World: A holistic Work in Progress

The year 2020 marks a global turning point. Never before have societies been put into lockdown across the globe - in some cases with months-long curfews - the economy paralyzed, and political decisions made without involving parliaments. The unimaginable thing about it is that these mechanisms, which were previously only known in totalitarian regimes, became established in democracies in no time at all. And they did so with virtually no protest from the sovereign. How could this happen?

Economic philosopher Melanie Vogel argues that this development was possible (and perhaps even inevitable) because the people - that means individuals like you and me - have forgotten and never fundamentally learned to think and act freely as sovereigns. She goes even further and claims that people are tired of freedom and are therefore barely in a position to consciously help shape democratic processes. Especially in a digital world in which there are no borders between countries and nations, but in principle every global citizen can influence democratic structures and decision-making processes - without ever having to have lived in that country themselves.This workshop focuses on important democratic processes and the key question: Why do opinions need freedom to keep an active societal system (democracy) alive? Instead of an academic approach, Melanie Vogel emphasizes pragmatic solutions. What can each individual do to support democratic processes and how can basic human skills such as empathy, cooperation and curiosity help?

Dr. Frederik Ferreau

University of Cologne, Institute for Media and Communications Law

Workshop: Regulating the Power of Social Media to Influence the Opinion Forming Processes

Social Media has revolutionized the way societies communicate: It enables almost everyone to participate in political discussion and to share his or her opinion with a (potentially) large auditorium. However, provider of social networks do not only offer a technical infrastructure, but are likely to transform into “gatekeepers“ of the opinion-forming process: They delete user-generated content or reduce its visibilty, mostly with for very good reasons like preventing the spread of criminal hate speech or dangerous disinformation. But providers also ban content that violates the providers “virtual domestic authority“, though this content is legal and therefore protected by Freedom of Speech guaranteed in the states constitutions.
Does social network provider have the right to ban content by their own standards? Or should societies restrict their power? To answer these questions, we will take a closer look on various legal approaches to regulate Social Media. In the following Moot Court we will transfer theory into practice and simulate a trial where a social network provider and a (famous) network user argue about the providers right to sanction the users statements.

Interesting: Our participant from 2020 Francisco interviewed Frederik for his podcast which you can access here

Mara Kardas-Nelson

University of California Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism

Workshop: The Role of Journalism in Nuancing International Development

Mara is a lecturer at UC Berkeley and journalist interested in environment, health, politics, urban reporting, health policy, international development. In her workshop she will talk about the techniques of open-sorce research combined with evaluation of other public documents (e.g. financial reports, complaints) and the challenges one faces in the larger context of international reporting. The key questions that she will cover during her workshop will be:

-How journalists and media outlets cover "international development" and the humanitarian aid sector, and how this is changing
-The role of journalism in uncovering some of the more nuanced, and darker sides of, development and the aid sector
-How journalists reporting on these issues can use a mix of techniques, from archival research, to in-person interviews and observation, to open source reporting
-Tips and guidelines for checking your own assumptions when reporting on communities, practices and places unfamiliar to you
-Hands-on session focused on supporting students to practice some of these techniques and tools

Dr. Bruno Castanho Silva

University of Cologne, Cologne Center for Comparative Politics

Workshop: Political Regulation of Misinformation and Hate Speech on Social Media Platforms

As social media becomes one of the dominant means of communication in modern democracies, we observe the rise of several challenges alongside its myriad opportunities. More specifically, their decentralized nature means that instruments which used to be effective against misinformation or hate speech in other media might not work in this environment. This has led to calls from several actors that social media platforms should hold more responsibility for what users post and share in their networks, and should be more proactive in censoring certain types of speech – such as hate speech or misinformation. On the other hand, many also fear that these calls for regulation may end up leading to restrictions on freedom of speech and to outright censorship of certain views– either by social media platforms themselves, or by non-democratic governments. In this workshop we will discuss these topics and this inherent tension in contemporary politics. We will start with an introductory lecture on the main topic, and then participants will be split into groups for a debate on regulation of social media platforms. At the end, participants will be familiar with the most recent scientific advances on the topic, as well as with the policy arguments in favor or against more regulation of social media platforms’ content.

M.Sc. Marco Rüth, M.Sc. Daniel Zimmermann, B.Sc. Franziska Iwan

University of Cologne, Department for Social and Media Psychology

Workshop: (Not) Sharing is caring: On Perceptions, Effects, and Behaviors regarding (false) Information on the Internet

Information is spread at lightning speed via news and social networks. However, not only correct and scientifically verified news is (un)intentionally shared, but also false information. In the case of highly relevant political and societal issues and during (global) crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, even more false news circulates on social media than usual. This can affect people’s personal beliefs, seriously impact their decision-making as well as various behaviors, and eventually also cause harm on individual and societal levels (e.g., health-related behavior and voting decisions).

Therefore, it is of great importance to better understand how people perceive and evaluate online information, and why people might share (false) information online. In this interactive session, we will discuss perceptual biases and behaviors related to online information to familiarize you with perspectives and works in the field of media psychology. Thus, you will gain in-depth insights into how researchers approach media phenomena to unravel associated effects. Additionally, your contributions will allow us to discuss experiences and perspectives regarding this topic on an international level. Taken together, in this session you will learn about new and exciting ways to raise awareness and promote reflection on mindful and responsible media use behavior, and we would like to invite you to join us on this interdisciplinary journey.

Eva Himmighofen

CEO of Alternative Cologne Tours

Live Digital Tour through Cologne: Street Art Tour meets Life Design
Have you seen Graffiti or Street Art before? What did you see?
During the tour you will get an insight of legal and illegal street art. You get to see a variety of artists and their diverse techniques to show their art in the public space.
You get to see the art from a specific angle as we walk live together through Cologne. With the art we will also explore more about ourself. How do we form an opinion? Where do we place it and why? Do we want to be heard and by whom? Do you have an opinion?
Within the tour you will see that Street Art can give you all answers to your questions. Street Art can give you deep questions about any topic.
This and more will be explored during the tour.

Workshop: Street Art Tour meets Life Design
Once you were on the Street Art Tour, you also know that Street Art has a lot to offer. It is vibrant, colourful, fun, crazy, lovely, shocking- all of it.
The interesting part is that Street Art can help you to understand yourself better. Thus, during the workshop we will do a deep dive into you and your personality. With this being said, you can but you do not have to share anything during the workshop as it can get very personal.
We all are the designer of our lifes- some construct their life active and some do this passive. You can choose who you want to be.
You will understand your life more as we walk through the workshop. If you are open enough for the workshop and tasks given, it could change your life for the long run.

Assistant Prof. Dr. Desirée Schmuck

KU Leuven (Belgium), School for Mass Communication Research

Workshop: (Mis-)Information by Social Media Influencers and Youth’s Political Engagement

So-called social media influencers, defined as digital opinion leaders who have a large network of followers on platforms like Instagram or YouTube, are highly popular among adolescents. Although originally known for lifestyle content and commercial advertising, they increasingly weave political issues like climate change, LGTBQ-rights and migration into their communication. This political content may have a crucial impact on adolescents, as their political identity is not yet fully developed and social media influencers are perceived as role models. As such, influencers’ may serve as digital political opinion leaders who affect youth’s political engagement by reducing the complexity of political topics, increasing their interest for political issues and providing social orientation. At the same time, influencers’ political communication puts adolescents and young adults at risk of political alienation and the development of political cynicism by increasing youth’s perceived distance to traditional politics or by spreading false information or conspiracy theories. In this workshop, we will interactively discuss the role of social media influencers in youth’s political opinion formation drawing from interdisciplinary theories and recent empirical evidence. We will also approach the issue from an international perspective discussing case studies of social media influencers across the globe.

Assistant Prof. Dr. Judith Möller

University of Amsterdam, Associate Professor Political Communication and Journalism
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Adjunct Associate Professor Sociology and Political Science

Workshop: Of Fake News and Disinformation in Digital Democracies

Disinformation is often seen as a major threat to digital democracies? But what exactly do we mean by disinformation and how common is it? What are its effects on the individual and society? What should be done about it? In this lecture you will learn about media effects theories that help explain the phenomenon as well as get insight into the ecology of (dis)information online. We will look into different facets of the occurrence, consequences and causes of false or misleading information. Among other things, we will discuss who disseminates disinformation with what objectives (i.e., social disruption). We will also discuss the consequences of fake news for public opinion. Finally we discuss different strategies and challenges to regulate and combat disinformation, for example through media literacy interventions.

Alessia Cerantola

Independent investigative journalist with numerous awards
Member of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Workshop: New Models of Investigative Journalism

As crime becomes more globalised, journalists from around the world are finding new ways to investigate. Increasingly, journalists are working together to follow leads beyond national borders. The internet is key, providing shared platforms that help journalists collaborate and maximise reporting resources, as well as increasing the readership and impact of their stories.This model is reshaping the work of journalism itself. Traditionally, reporters have been fiercely competitive, and reluctant to share information with colleagues. Now, it is common to find journalists from traditional media, and newer organisations, working together on investigative projects, sharing data, deadlines, struggles and glory. These collaborations are set up to cover big events like elections or crises. The resulting publications are spread across multiple media organisations, guaranteeing multiple points of view and narratives. The new model provides an opportunity for a more diverse and transparent narrative.

Christopher Wittich

Moderator and reporter at n-tv

Workshop: The challenges of digital journalism and journalistic formats. A practical perspective from an „insider".

The German media landscape is changing more strongly than ever before. We need to become more digital, we need to be faster and we need to be more in touch with our audience.

Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter has turned some of the audience into the producer. Producing and distributing the content to an audience of thousands or millions is no longer an exclusive job for professional broadcaster.Nevertheless, nobody should underestimate the fundamental difference of talking into your smartphone to your followers about daily life topics or informing the audience as a professional journalist knowing your role for the democracy. Journalists are simply able to verify, evaluate and classify content.

Furthermore, professional broadcasters are working for the whole society not for a small group of special interested followers.Regardless that is why all developments of the mass media are simply the backbone of democracy. Although we are facing the challenges of digitization. In this class I will tell you what kind of decisions we have to make in daily TV-business. After that we will debate the role of media in your country and which role it plays for the democracy.